Back on October 27th, a Monday night game played at AT&T Stadium, the team from Washington was able to beat a superior Dallas Cowboys team 20-17. When you look back on the Cowboys schedule this year, that is the one game that really stands out as a blown opportunity, a game where the Cowboys succumbed to a much less-talented team.
So at a couple of months distance, it might be hard to remember what exactly happened in that game. Most Cowboys fans will remember that was the night Tony Romo got kneed in the back and fractured a couple of transverse processes which kept him out of the next game against Arizona. But just how did Washington manage to win? I think it boils down to two things. One, the Cowboys decided not to rely on the run like they had been doing previously. If you go back and read this article, I lay out some details from the game when the Cowboys abandoned the running game when they shouldn't have. Here's a brief snippet:
Yes, this is a story about the Cowboys failing to stick with the run, and how it affected everything. And this is not just about running while sitting at second and goal at Washington's three, then throwing it twice. Or in overtime, after a DeMarco Murray run of eight yards, and then inexplicably deciding to throw it three straight times. Sure, those were a couple of the most visible moments, but plenty of others exist to make the evidence irrefutable.
On the Cowboys first drive they were at their own 36. On first down they handed it to Murray who ran for five yards. Second and five, and the first indicator that the Cowboys were not following the script. On second down they throw and it goes incomplete. On third and five, the Cowboys throw again but the Redskins blitzed and sacked Romo. That actually turned out to be the script much of the night.
It goes on like that, but for whatever reason the Cowboys didn't trust their running game like they had been previously. So I would say the first mistake for Dallas to avoid is giving up on the running game. Don't get fancy Dallas, do what you do, even if you are not ripping off big gains. It still works to physically beat down a defense and it causes them to roll a safety up to help.
The second mistake they made was not utilizing the middle of the field when all of those Cover 0 blitzes came. You can re-live that beating we took in this article, a screen-capture breakdown showing how Dallas didn't make Washington pay for those all out blitzes. Dallas was running patterns that took too long to execute, and even when they were running shorter patterns the receivers were not getting their heads around in time for Romo to get them the ball. Now, it will help if the offensive line plays better in pass protection this time, and the Cowboys are able to pick up the free runners in the pass rush that they missed last time. But running some quick slants, drags and crossing patterns where the receiver turns his head immediately will help to back Washington off. Also, some outside bubble screens or bunch formations can also slow down the pass rush. So the second mistake to avoid is not making Washington pay for sending the all out blitz.
Fortunately, it sounds like the Cowboys are ready this time.
"I think the last game the caught us with some Cover-zero blitzes - we call them our ‘all outs' - and we will be a lot more prepared just for that side of things," Romo said. "And they play some trap coverages and other things you've got to be prepared for. You can create some big plays if you execute certain things the right way and so we are going to try to do some of that."
Haslett called more all-out blitzes against the Cowboys than he did at any point this season, and the Redskins perfectly timed the snap and registered nine hits on Romo (the five sacks, plus four others).
"I don't think they had a bead on the cadence, they just had a couple of really good plays," Romo said. "And we had a couple turnovers in the first game that really hurt us and they got off the field on a couple third downs with some all-out pressures that can create a problem if you didn't have the right stuff on. So we are just going to make sure that each of our calls do not have certain things that allow for that."
Run the ball, make them pay on the Cover 0 blitzes, and ride off to victory.